COVID 19: Human-rights advocates concerned by B.C.’s vaccine card

Disability, anti-poverty and civil-rights advocates worry proof-of-vaccination requirements will exclude their constituents.

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The COVID-19 vaccine-card requirement being rolled out in British Columbia is popular with a public weary of pandemic restrictions, but disability, anti-poverty and civil-rights advocates worry it will be another layer of social isolation for their constituents.


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The business community has also raised questions about their role in enforcing the rule.

Set to kick in Sept. 13, the measure will require people to show proof of vaccination to go to restaurants, casinos and gyms and indoor venues including concerts or sporting events, but won’t include a medical exemption for those who cannot be vaccinated. More details about its implementation are expected this week.

“My initial reaction to Dr. Bonnie Henry’s announcement of the B.C. vaccine card was frustration,” said Helaine Boyd, executive director of the Disability Alliance of B.C., who said the measure is open to a legal challenge as a contravention of B.C. Human Rights Code.

Henry couched the lack of a medical exemption as a temporary restriction on “discretionary activities,” but Boyd said swimming pools are included on that list, which will cut some disabled off from activities that count as hydrotherapy.


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And generally, “I imagine that social isolation will be further exacerbated by this,” Boyd said.

B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender wasn’t available for an interview Friday, but did say she is “monitoring (the requirement) closely,” in an on air interview on CKNW’s Mike Smyth show, with respect to a potential violation of human rights law.

“A policy like this can be justified within human-rights principles,” she said, but “a policy like this needs to give deep consideration to human-rights principles and law, and I do have concerns on that front.”

It isn’t just the disabled who face barriers to the vaccine-card program, anyone who doesn’t have government identification or a personal health number faces difficulties, according to an “open response” issued by the Pivot Legal Society signed by 24 advocacy organizations, including the disability alliance.


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The document notes that undocumented migrants, low-income individuals and drug users are among the groups who will face barriers to the program, even though many of them are vaccinated, but unable to prove it.

In the response, the groups, which include the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Fuerza Migrante and B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, call on government to provide options for individuals who aren’t enrolled in MSP or have government ID to prove their vaccination status.

It also asks government to ensure public health orders don’t target undocumented individuals and “there is no police enforcement of public health guidelines.”

For the disability community, “the minimum would just be for them to get in contact with us and the rest of the disability community about this medical exemption issue rather than ignoring us,” Boyd said.


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Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the vaccine-card program Aug. 23, which was viewed as a necessary measure to curb rising COVID infections, particularly the highly infectious Delta variant, among the unvaccinated.

Some 77 per cent of British Columbians over the age of 12 were fully vaccinated as of Friday, almost 85 per cent had at least one vaccine dose, according to the Ministry of Health.

Businesses support the idea, but will monitor its implementation to see if they need help from government to back up the front line workers who will be expected to enforce the rule, said Ian Tostenson, CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Service Association.

“There’s this incremental cost if you need to put someone through the (vaccine-card) verification process,” Tostenson said, which financially stretched venues might need help with.

Premier John Horgan advised business owners to call police if their employees face abuse from the anyone unable to show proof of vaccination, but Tostenson said establishments might also have to hire additional security.

“We don’t want confrontation, that’s not the business we’re in,” Tostenson said. “And so we try to avoid that as much as we can.”

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